Saturday, May 3, 2014

Finding a Place in My Heart

The Coach House, a theater in my new town

In a new location, some of us gravitate to churches, some to waterside or woodland retreats. Others look for the best theater. I belong in the latter category.

Live theatre has always done it for me. And yes, Spellcheck, I intended to use a different spelling of the word in that instance. Pet peeve: I was taught in college that the word for a theater building was spelled with an er at the end, and the word for the art itself was spelled with an re. I daresay this is archaic usage now and it would probably behoove me to learn to spell it with an er for all aspects, but I'm not there yet. I have observed that the English use re for both--so I know I must settle on one or the other eventually.

Back to the story. Once it was established that I shall move more or less permanently to Kingston in a few months, I decided to find out if there was a local amateur theatre group. I found the web page for the Coach House Players and discovered there was a show in production, so I installed my GPS and found the location. The building is impressive, nestled in an upscale residential neighborhood I hadn't yet discovered. This had been the coach house of the large estate of one Samuel D. Coykendall, a one-time prominent citizen of the city.

Last night I attended a play in the cozy-yet-elegant 99-seat theater. My excitement mounted as I found the door (and if you're in the neighborhood, you'll see that finding the door is a bit of a challenge.) I knew I was going to see a show that was far from my usual cup of tea, one of those English mystery-farces so chock full of plot that there is almost no way to wade through. But as always when I'm inside a theater, awaiting the opening of the now-nonexistent curtain, I was optimistic and envisioning all the ways I might get involved, even if not transported by this particular production.

Alas, the play itself really didn't work for me. The attempts at English accents jarred me to the point I worried that there might actually be somebody English in the audience, who could be laughing for the wrong reason entirely. Of course the play was full of the kind of sight-gag hokum that marks such endeavors and intrudes on the suspension of my disbelief. I didn't want to be a snob, however; the rest of the audience were laughing as the play went on, and there were a couple of performances I was quite astonished by.

At the intermission, I was even more astonished to learn that refreshments were complimentary, and they included wine, coffee, and fresh homemade desserts. I have been in many many theaters in the U.S., England and Switzerland, and I have never seen this. There was a table to one side with about ten bound copies of Broadway playbills. My late husband is the only person I'd known to do this, and I was fascinated. The sign gave the name of the owner. I said to the friendly lady behind the cupcake table nearby, "Somebody went to a lot of plays," and she responded, "Yes, he did. And his father did as well."

The program revealed that my favorite actor onstage, portraying a bumbling inspector whose lines doubled back on themselves with malapropisms and puns, "has been in more plays in the last 30 years than he can remember." It also said he was a retired fire captain with the Kingston Fire Department. Besides making this totally incredible character rather endearing, he managed to sustain a comic performance with long sections of dialogue full of non sequiturs for an almost relentless two hours. It was an admirable feat.  

This is my tribe. As I watched the rest of the play I asked myself if I were up to getting involved again. Do I have the capacity to learn lines, to work until late at night (I've discovered in my retirement that my body clock gives out naturally at about 10 P.M.), to take on the stress of working in a play, even in a minor capacity?

There is an audition Monday night for the next play. It's about an elderly couple who fall in love but cause family crises on both sides when they decide to move in together without getting married in order to keep collecting Social Security checks. Driving home, I thought it over. I'll go--not necessarily hoping for a role, but to meet some like-minded people and spend some time on familiar ground. Even if I'm really retired from the theatre, I know where there is one. I've found my way. 


  1. Local theatre is the best way I can think of to meet new people and become part of the community. Enjoy!

  2. It's great that you went and had an enjoyable evening, Mary Lois, despite the play not being what you had hoped for. It's even better that you found a place for making friends with similar interests! I hope Monday night turns out to be the start of some beautiful friendships.

  3. It grew on me, Pgarvey. I hope that came through.

  4. I love this blog entry. "This is my tribe" and the universality of theatre. It used to be said of the Catholic Church, when I was a child, that you could go into any Catholic mass anywhere in the world and feel right at home (the commonality of the Latin, the order of the mass). Same way with theatre. Many years ago, I played The Girl in Saroyan's The Cave Dwellers. The play takes place in a decrepit old theatre building slated for demolition. My pivotal line was, "What is the secret of the theatre?" And the answer, albeit dragged out Saroyan-esquely, was that it is the universal love .. of art and family and belonging. Soiunds ike that's what you feel when you visit the boards. :-)

    1. I used to love that play--even auditioned for it once. It was the kind of role I wanted to play. I didn't get that one, and was crestfallen--but I went on to play Alma in SUMMER AND SMOKE, and the title role in ST. JOAN. I passed on auditioning for Nina THE SEA GULL and have regretted it my whole life, but I was too stupid to read the play and know how much I would have loved that role. In later years there were many more parts, many more plays--and maybe there'll be a walk-on in my future.

  5. I guess either theater or theatre is preferable to playhouse or auditorium. I use theater, but somehow, I like theatre, because it looks classier.

    Break a leg!